by Janelle Rolke @sustainablestepswithjanelle

This is the fifth chapter from "Lead a Circular Lifestyle By Practicing the R's of Sustainability"


Stores that offer refill and bulk purchases are encouraging customers to reuse jars and containers again and again to avoid single-use packaging.   By choosing to refill, you are bringing the previous 4 R’s of sustainability full circle: rethinking how you consume, refusing to support companies that may not align with your beliefs towards social and environmental rights, and reducing your waste by reusing a container.


Retailers that offer refill stations and buying in bulk typically allow you to bring in your own empty (and clean) container to fill with product.  Many locations even have the option for you to take a free donated container!  You choose the quantity of product you purchase and the weight of the product determines the cost. With refill stores, you are in charge of how much product you purchase based off of your needs or budget!


The goal is to move away from single-use packaging and individually packaged items and switch our mentality to refilling and buying in bulk. If you are lucky enough to have a refill store nearby, you also have the incredible opportunity to support a local business. (Please note that the majority of retailers that offer bulk purchases of food  have been unable to continue this practice during the pandemic so I will not be focusing heavily on bulk food for this post.)

If I had to choose a favorite “R of sustainability” this is it. I get such satisfaction from reusing old bottles and containers and refilling them with products I need for myself, my family, and my home.  I believe that by refilling, you are truly leading a circular lifestyle.


In December 2020 the town of Beverly Massachusetts received an early Christmas gift with the opening of Unpacked Living, a plastic free store helping people reduce their waste and have easy access to safe household and beauty products. Since the opening of the store I have been saving containers and either refilling them with new products or donating them for others to use. 


Here’s just a sample of items I have purchased from the refill stations:


  • Various gel and foam hand soaps using mason jars with pumps or reused hand soap bottles.
  • Bissell dishwashing gel. $11.22 for 51 oz. The suggested amount is 1 tablespoon/ load. This means I should get 102 washes with this ONE reused almond milk bottle!
  • Almond oil. $6.00 for 6 oz. I love using this in the winter after I shower. The container I reused was Palmer's coconut oil bottle with a pump.
  • Unpaste zero waste toothpaste tablets (with fluoride)- I store a small container of tooth tabs in each of my bathrooms. The containers were saved from a food delivery service (I think Sun Basket) and originally contained cooking ingredients.
  • Bissell citrus mint lotion. $6.84 for 19 ounces. Container was a previously used lotion bottle with a pump.
  • Tub and Tile cleaner. The glass container stored maple syrup and a spray nozzle was added.
  • Glass cleaner reusing the previous glass cleaner bottle with spray nozzle.


Coffee & Tea Refills


I made the switch from using tea bags to purchasing loose tea.  Tea sold in bags is often just dust and tea leftovers, the bags are usually not compostable and have been known to release microplastics (yikes!) I have a collection of tins and jars that I’ve brought into Tea Camilla located in Danvers, MA. The loose tea is extremely affordable and I know I am making a positive difference by refilling. I love avoiding unnecessary waste by bringing my own containers again and again!


My husband and I are coffee drinkers (I prefer hot and he drinks iced). With the drastic change in our routine over the past year, we’ve found ourselves no longer getting our morning coffee at our local shops and instead we’ve been making our own every morning. 


I’ve gone through many phases with my coffee selection this past year; focusing on what the coffee beans are packaged in (and aiming to only purchase compostable packaging), where the coffee is from and if it’s organic/fair trade, etc.


My new love for reusing my own containers for as many things as possible brought me back to my favorite local coffee shop in downtown Salem, Front Street Coffeehouse.  They sell Essex Coffee Roasters which is a local small batch coffee roasting company and I can bring my own canister to refill! 

Resources so YOU can take action and jump on the refill train:

●       Beatrice Johnson, famous author and zero waste guru created an app, Bulk to find your nearest stores that offer bulk purchases. 

●       Here is a comprehensive list of refill and bulk stores  across the United States:

●       Massachusetts Bulk directory

●       Loop– “The future is refillable”


If there isn’t a refill shop close to you, then find one in your state that best fits your needs and plan a day trip around your visit.  Reach out to the owner beforehand with questions you may have, make a list of products you’re interested in and save your containers! Sightsee, grab lunch, and enjoy your refill store experience!

Refill Summary

Let’s phase out single use plastics by supporting refill stores and businesses that allow you to bring your own containers. The next time you come to the end of your shampoo, conditioner, lotion, hand soap, household cleaner, laundry detergent, tea, coffee, or pantry item, clean out the container, find your nearest refill store and refill it!

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